Freya Hoffmeister Completes 1,600Km Arctic Paddle

German endurance paddler Freya Hoffmeister has wrapped up her summer expedition through the Western Arctic, reaching Cambridge Bay alone after her paddling partner left about two-thirds of the way through the roughly 1,600km trip.

“I reached my goal, that was my plan,” Hoffmeister said by phone Saturday from the airport in Cambridge Bay, where she was waiting for a flight. “I might be the only paddler who reaches her goal [this year]. We’ll see. The season isn’t finished.”

Hoffmeister’s summer expedition was part of her long-term quest, which started in March 2017, to paddle around all of North America a section at a time. If she finishes the circumnavigation, she’ll add it to a list of accomplishments that includes kayaking around Iceland, the South Island of New Zealand, Australia, and South America.

In July of this year, she and veteran paddler Jimmy Harvey of Austin set out from Tuktoyaktuk, at the western edge of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. They kayaked about 1,000km together to Kugluktuk, where Harvey made the decision to head back to Texas.

a kayaker and two kayaks on a sandy beach

Photo: Freya Hoffmeister


Partner leaves

The two hadn’t met in person before the trip and struggled at times to get along. That grew difficult, especially when the weather pinned them down in a tent for days at a time.

When they did paddle, they covered about 40km a day.

Hoffmeister described paddling conditions as mostly “mellow.” On days when those winds reached 40 knots or higher, she stayed in her tent, reading, writing, and eating.

“You have to be patient,” she says. “Sometimes it’s boring when I sit in a tent and can’t get out for a hike because it’s blowing and cold.”

Early on, the paddlers saw caribou. Bowhead whales surfaced during long crossings, and several times large schools of belugas swam near their kayaks. As the trip progressed, the terrain became more barren. Once, Hoffmeister spotted a grizzly with two cubs in the distance.

A beluga whale surfaces between the two kayaks.

A beluga whale passes between the two kayaks. Photo: Freya Hoffmeister


“It’s so barren and even the tundra was not blooming,” she said. “The first section was nice, with lovely tundra. Later on, rocks, rocks, rocks.”

closeup of tent and kayak

Photo: Freya Hoffmeister


Keeping warm

Her biggest challenge, she said, was keeping warm during long, blustery days. “My blood flow is not very good through my hands and feet,” she said.

Back in Germany, she’ll catch up on business at home, where she runs two ice cream shops and a Christmas store. Then she’ll fly to Central America, where she’ll pick up the warmer half of her circumnavigation by paddling along Nicaragua, Honduras, and Belize.

“I’m half through the whole distance,” she says.

Then, next July, she’ll head back to Cambridge Bay and push east across the Arctic.

She’s already picked a paddling partner she’s more likely to get along with –- her life partner, Peter.

Pam LeBlanc

Pam LeBlanc is an Austin, Texas-based journalist who writes about outdoor adventure and environmental issues for numerous publications. Learn more at